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Realigning Federal Spending to Meet Our Priorities

Our founding fathers envisioned that government officials, as stewards of the public’s funds, would be careful spenders.  They would be focused on providing those things that would not otherwise be provided adequately by the states or the private sector. Government spending today is a betrayal of that vision.  


The proliferation of a hodgepodge of federal programs over recent decades has massively increased government spending, with too-little attention given to (1) whether these programs meet their intended goals, or (2) whether they are being managed in cost-effective ways. Since 1930, the growth in federal outlays has outpaced growth in the economy by a full 2 percentage points annually, raising the federal government’s share from less than 4 percent of GDP to 21 percent.


We must ask ourselves: Have all of the things that have been provided through the federal budget had a higher value than what we, as individuals and families, could have achieved if we had those funds at our disposal to meet our own specific priorities? Have these programs – which claim such a huge portion of our resources – been managed carefully in cost-effective ways?   


Particularly worrisome is that, under existing law, the federal share will continue to increase over coming decades. We can expect government expenditures to continue to exceed government revenues. As the federal budget deficit increases every year, it will have to be financed with even more government debt – with interest payments on that debt imposing an increasingly higher burden on the budget. This situation of fiscal irresponsibility on the part of our government is clearly unsustainable. We have been living beyond our means. It’s time to tighten our belt – or we will find ourselves facing the same fiscal mess as Greece.


To be sure, much of the future growth of outlays is directly related to entitlements. These are government programs concerning health care and social security; as growing numbers of our population become senior citizens, the demands on these programs can be expected to increase. I am proposing sustainable reforms to health care and social security that will not jeopardize those currently retired or those approaching retirement. The goal of my health care plan is to give individuals and families more control over their health care; at the same time, I intend to implement reforms that will relieve the cost pressures facing us all. I will also be offering a comprehensive plan that will provide effectively for the needs of the less fortunate.


What is most important is to guarantee that there will be adequate funding for these programs after my reforms have been implemented. To accomplish that objective, it is imperative that waste and unnecessary programs be removed from the budget. Any new spending initiatives going forward will be carefully scrutinized to determine whether they are better provided by government or by individuals making decisions on their own behalf. New programs will be judged solely on their merits: Do they accomplish specific objectives in accordance with cost-effective criteria?


The other major spending priority within the federal budget is to provide for the defense of our nation. We must ensure adequate security for our people: It is the most basic function of the federal government. We cannot put the safety of our people at risk by cutting corners on the defense budget. Nor can we ignore challenges on the horizon that require more innovative approaches to defense preparedness; we need to be forward thinking, ensuring that our national defense budget addresses our security needs. But it is vital that America’s military budget be realigned in accordance with identified priorities. It must become far more efficient. We cannot afford to waste a dime in putting the hard-earned funds of taxpayers to maximum use in defending our nation.


In short, our federal budget has become appallingly bloated. The scope for sound, merited spending cuts is considerable. More than thirty years ago, President Reagan set up the Grace Commission to identify waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal budget. Following successful business management practices, this commission identified cuts amounting to 18 percent of outlays—more than $250 billion annually in terms of the budget today. Unfortunately, political special interests stood in the way of implementing most of the commission’s recommendations.



Dr. Ben Carson’s Plan for Cutting Government Spending


As a first step toward streamlining the federal government, I will recommend that we focus on reports provided by the General Accountability Office and the inspectors general of seventy-three government agencies and departments. They have identified $650 billion annually in waste that could be expunged from the budget. To date, these reports have played only a small role in the appropriations process and have not been translated into meaningful budget savings. A recent reminder of the carelessness with which public funds are handled is found in the report of the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development claiming that inadequate record-keeping has kept it from auditing $20 billion in Government National Mortgage Association funds.


To better protect against special political interests derailing warranted cuts, I propose that the entire set of recommended cuts be put together in a single comprehensive package – to be voted up or down together as one. This approach has been effectively used to address the need for military base closings. Once adopted, the baseline budget for the relevant agencies and departments will be lowered by the amount of the approved cut. I can assure you that, as President, I will waste no time signing this bill once it arrives on my desk.


To ensure that cuts are consistent with the very best practices in place for managing resources, I will constitute a modern commission along the lines of President Reagan’s Grace Commission. This commission will undertake a careful and thorough examination of all of our federal programs, with the goal of providing an across-the-board set of recommendations for further cuts and program reforms.  


Beyond completely overhauling the operating budgets of departments and agencies, there are numerous programs that can be scaled back or eliminated altogether. Various reports have been released in recent years that list many candidates for such action. Prominent among these is the Congressional Budget Office’s Options for Reducing the Deficit. This contains a list of nearly eighty program cuts that can be considered. Excluding those related to national defense, health care, income support, and the tax system, there are easily $1 trillion in cuts that can be achieved over the coming decade ($100 billion per year). Another comprehensive effort stemming from the bipartisan, pro-growth Bowles-Simpson Moment of Truth Project -- A Bipartisan Path Forward to Securing America’s Future – lists comparable levels of budget cuts. Further, the House Budget Committee’s report entitled A Balanced Budget for a Stronger America identifies $5.5 trillion ($550 billion per year) in cuts that can be made over the next decade. And there are numerous other studies that have unearthed large savings by eliminating programs that cannot be justified on their merits. 


I will be releasing my plans for achieving meaningful health care and for reforming programs that provide income support for those in need. These plans will provide substantial budgetary savings while ensuring that individuals and families have affordable access to quality health care. Those in our nation who are unable to provide fully for themselves will have access to comprehensive support from the federal and state and local governments to meet their basic needs. It is also important that they be granted an avenue for becoming self-supporting. Over many years, a dehumanizing patchwork of income-support programs has evolved in the United States; we need to free the disadvantaged from such poverty traps.


The health care plan that I am proposing, centering on health savings accounts, will enable individuals and families to have greater choice regarding the kinds of health care that best meet their needs—instead of the current one size fits all—and will better align the incentives of health care providers with the needs of their patients. Those currently covered by VA, Medicare, and Medicaid will have more choice and access to quality health care, and all will be assured of catastrophic coverage. All told, my health care plan is expected to lower federal outlays on the order of $1-1/4 trillion over the next decade and likely even more beyond that point.



Leaner Government: More Efficient, More Effective


My proposal for reform of income-support programs focuses on consolidating the 120 existing programs, achieving efficiency gains in the process. But more importantly, the new program will be directed to where it is needed and will provide the incentives and wherewithal to escape poverty, thereby enabling all of our people to share in the great American dream. In addition to broadening opportunity, the new income-support program will provide substantial budgetary savings. Currently, $800 billion is being spent on those 120 programs – which are duplicative, and contain perverse incentives that lead to unnecessary spending. Considerable savings will result from straightening out the jumbled mess of income support programs. 


There is ample scope for budget savings to allow us to achieve a balanced budget over the next decade in conjunction with my pro-growth tax reform plan.  Once we achieve a balanced budget, the balanced budget amendment that I am proposing can be comfortably met going forward. Moreover, the constraints of a balanced budget requirement will place greater discipline on the legislative process to ensure that spending initiatives pass muster and are fully justified on their merits. The result will be a leaner federal government, but one that can be more responsive to changing public financing needs. I will be coming forward soon with the specifics of my balanced budget amendment proposal that achieves a balanced budget over the next decade while providing scope for true emergencies, much as envisioned by the founding fathers.  


During the transition to a balanced budget, there will be shortfalls of tax revenues from outlays. Instead of financing these shortfalls by piling on more debt, I propose that we embark on an aggressive program of asset sales. The federal government owns massive amounts of assets that can be sold, allowing these assets to be better managed by private hands. The assets range from onshore and offshore energy reserves, to hundreds of millions of acres of land, to numerous other assets. In doing so, we will enlist the expertise of the private sector to ensure that we get the most value out of these assets when they are sold.


The spending cuts that I am proposing will be a part of a complete plan aimed at spurring economic growth, while addressing forthrightly the vital functions of the federal government.  In the course of the reforms that I am proposing, we will ensure that the needs of the people of this nation are met in a way that provides individuals and families with more freedom to control their own lives and for all to have the opportunity to share in the American dream. Meanwhile, the move to an ongoing balanced budget will assure younger Americans that they are not going to be stuck with the tab for a federal government whose spending is totally out of control. The end result will not only be a leaner, more responsive national government – but also a revitalized economy that will once again be the envy of the world.   







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